(UPDATE 12/30/2013) It was almost amusing to view a tweet from someone apparently in Fukushima Prefecture quoting my tweet (in Japanese) about the Reuters article below, who said what a terrible translation my tweet was (probably without even seeing the English article). What part was terrible for this person? That there were 733 companies contracting decon work in Fukushima from the Ministry of the Environment, apparently. Go figure.
(UPDATE 12/30/2013) Short video news from Reuters on the subject:
Remember the State Secrecy Protection Law that passed on a Friday in November in Japan? One of my twitter followers commented, "Good timing. No one will remember it on Monday."
Sure enough, the Japanese national media almost completely dropped their coverage the next Monday. So much for the citizens' right to know, and freedom of the press that they harped about when the Upper House was debating the bill.
They said, almost all of them, "If the law passes, the coverage of the Fukushima nuclear accident will be suppressed by the government."
Well the Japanese media doesn't need the secrecy law to stop writing about the nuclear accident, as no one in the Japanese national media ever writes about what the US Reuters just wrote about.
Reuters reports that Japan's homeless continue to be recruited to work in the decontamination jobs in Fukushima Prefecture, and some of them are forced to go into debt by doing so. Five companies in the Ministry of the Environment registry for decontamination jobs cannot even be identified, says Reuters.
Taxpayers' money at work, and no report, no naming names in the Japanese media.
From Reuters (12/29/2013; part, emphasis is mine):
Special Report: Japan's homeless recruited for murky Fukushima clean-up
By Mari Saito and Antoni Slodkowski
(Reuters) - Seiji Sasa hits the train station in this northern Japanese city before dawn most mornings to prowl for homeless men.
He isn't a social worker. He's a recruiter. The men in Sendai Station are potential laborers that Sasa can dispatch to contractors in Japan's nuclear disaster zone for a bounty of $100 a head.
"This is how labor recruiters like me come in every day," Sasa says, as he strides past men sleeping on cardboard and clutching at their coats against the early winter cold.
It's also how Japan finds people willing to accept minimum wage for one of the most undesirable jobs in the industrialized world: working on the $35 billion, taxpayer-funded effort to clean up radioactive fallout across an area of northern Japan larger than Hong Kong.
Almost three years ago, a massive earthquake and tsunami leveled villages across Japan's northeast coast and set off multiple meltdowns at the Fukushima nuclear plant. Today, the most ambitious radiation clean-up ever attempted is running behind schedule. The effort is being dogged by both a lack of oversight and a shortage of workers, according to a Reuters analysis of contracts and interviews with dozens of those involved.
In January, October and November, Japanese gangsters were arrested on charges of infiltrating construction giant Obayashi Corp's network of decontamination subcontractors and illegally sending workers to the government-funded project.
In the October case, homeless men were rounded up at Sendai's train station by Sasa, then put to work clearing radioactive soil and debris in Fukushima City for less than minimum wage, according to police and accounts of those involved. The men reported up through a chain of three other companies to Obayashi, Japan's second-largest construction company.
Obayashi, which is one of more than 20 major contractors involved in government-funded radiation removal projects, has not been accused of any wrongdoing. But the spate of arrests has shown that members of Japan's three largest criminal syndicates - Yamaguchi-gumi, Sumiyoshi-kai and Inagawa-kai - had set up black-market recruiting agencies under Obayashi.
OVERSIGHT LEFT TO TOP CONTRACTORS
Part of the problem in monitoring taxpayer money in Fukushima is the sheer number of companies involved in decontamination, extending from the major contractors at the top to tiny subcontractors many layers below them. The total number has not been announced. But in the 10 most contaminated towns and a highway that runs north past the gates of the wrecked plant in Fukushima, Reuters found 733 companies were performing work for the Ministry of Environment, according to partial contract terms released by the ministry in August under Japan's information disclosure law.
Reuters found 56 subcontractors listed on environment ministry contracts worth a total of $2.5 billion in the most radiated areas of Fukushima that would have been barred from traditional public works because they had not been vetted by the construction ministry.
The 2011 law that regulates decontamination put control under the environment ministry, the largest spending program ever managed by the 10-year-old agency. The same law also effectively loosened controls on bidders, making it possible for firms to win radiation removal contracts without the basic disclosure and certification required for participating in public works such as road construction.
Reuters also found five firms working for the Ministry of Environment that could not be identified. They had no construction ministry registration, no listed phone number or website, and Reuters could not find a basic corporate registration disclosing ownership. There was also no record of the firms in the database of Japan's largest credit research firm, Teikoku Databank.
"As a general matter, in cases like this, we would have to start by looking at whether a company like this is real," said Shigenobu Abe, a researcher at Teikoku Databank. "After that, it would be necessary to look at whether this is an active company and at the background of its executive and directors."
Responsibility for monitoring the hiring, safety records and suitability of hundreds of small firms involved in Fukushima's decontamination rests with the top contractors, including Kajima Corp, Taisei Corp and Shimizu Corp, officials said.
"In reality, major contractors manage each work site," said Hide Motonaga, deputy director of the radiation clean-up division of the environment ministry.
But, as a practical matter, many of the construction companies involved in the clean-up say it is impossible to monitor what is happening on the ground because of the multiple layers of contracts for each job that keep the top contractors removed from those doing the work.
"If you started looking at every single person, the project wouldn't move forward. You wouldn't get a tenth of the people you need," said Yukio Suganuma, president of Aisogo Service, a construction company that was hired in 2012 to clean up radioactive fallout from streets in the town of Tamura.
Seiji Sasa, 67, a broad-shouldered former wrestling promoter, was photographed by undercover police recruiting homeless men at the Sendai train station to work in the nuclear cleanup. The workers were then handed off through a chain of companies reporting up to Obayashi, as part of a $1.4 million contract to decontaminate roads in Fukushima, police say.
"I don't ask questions; that's not my job," Sasa said in an interview with Reuters. "I just find people and send them to work. I send them and get money in exchange. That's it. I don't get involved in what happens after that."
Only a third of the money allocated for wages by Obayashi's top contractor made it to the workers Sasa had found. The rest was skimmed by middlemen, police say. After deductions for food and lodging, that left workers with an hourly rate of about $6, just below the minimum wage equal to about $6.50 per hour in Fukushima, according to wage data provided by police. Some of the homeless men ended up in debt after fees for food and housing were deducted, police say.
Sasa was arrested in November and released without being charged. Police were after his client, Mitsunori Nishimura, a local Inagawa-kai gangster. Nishimura housed workers in cramped dorms on the edge of Sendai and skimmed an estimated $10,000 of public funding intended for their wages each month, police say.
UNPAID WAGE CLAIMS
In Fukushima, Shuto has faced at least two claims with local labor regulators over unpaid wages, according to Kaneda. In a separate case, a 55-year-old homeless man reported being paid the equivalent of $10 for a full month of work at Shuto. The worker's paystub, reviewed by Reuters, showed charges for food, accommodation and laundry were docked from his monthly pay equivalent to about $1,500, leaving him with $10 at the end of the August.
The man turned up broke and homeless at Sendai Station in October after working for Shuto, but disappeared soon afterwards, according to Yasuhiro Aoki, a Baptist pastor and homeless advocate.
Kaneda confirmed the man had worked for her but said she treats her workers fairly. She said Shuto Kogyo pays workers at least $80 for a day's work while docking the equivalent of $35 for food. Many of her workers end up borrowing from her to make ends meet, she said. One of them had owed her $20,000 before beginning work in Fukushima, she says. The balance has come down recently, but then he borrowed another $2,000 for the year-end holidays.
"He will never be able to pay me back," she said.
The problem of workers running themselves into debt is widespread. "Many homeless people are just put into dormitories, and the fees for lodging and food are automatically docked from their wages," said Aoki, the pastor. "Then at the end of the month, they're left with no pay at all."
Shizuya Nishiyama, 57, says he briefly worked for Shuto clearing rubble. He now sleeps on a cardboard box in Sendai Station. He says he left after a dispute over wages, one of several he has had with construction firms, including two handling decontamination jobs.
Nishiyama's first employer in Sendai offered him $90 a day for his first job clearing tsunami debris. But he was made to pay as much as $50 a day for food and lodging. He also was not paid on the days he was unable to work. On those days, though, he would still be charged for room and board. He decided he was better off living on the street than going into debt.
"We're an easy target for recruiters," Nishiyama said. "We turn up here with all our bags, wheeling them around and we're easy to spot. They say to us, are you looking for work? Are you hungry? And if we haven't eaten, they offer to find us a job."
(Full article at the link)
Shuto, in the article, is a contractor who hires and sends workers to Fukushima. Ms. Kaneda, who generously lends money to workers to make ends meet after her firm deducts a ton of money from their pay, was arrested in 2009 for charging illegally high interest rates on loans to pensioners, says Reuters.
Most people in Japan continue to look toward the horizon longingly where the beautiful nuclear-free future is supposed to lie, while pretending not to know the not-so-pleasant details of the nuclear accident.